Iraq: Some Interesting Trends

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September 30, 2005: Some interesting trends can be seen in Iraq. The government offensive throughout central (Sunni Arab) Iraq is largely being fought by Iraqi troops. American forces are almost always nearby, and American advisors go in with the Iraqis, to advise, not supervise. But it's mainly an Iraqi show. This, and the growing number of tips from Sunni Arab civilians, and quick confessions from captured terrorists, is making major inroads on the Sunni Arab ability to fight the government.

This current offensive has had three effects on the battle with Sunni Arab diehards.

First, it has killed hundreds of Sunni Arab gunmen, including dozens of al Qaeda foreigners. This included the capture of tons of weapons, bomb making material, other equipment and documents (paper or electronic on laptop hard drives). Prisoners and documents are quickly squeezed for additional information by an intelligence organization that has evolved into a highly effective "lead (to the next raid targets) generating machine." This American intel effort doesn't get the credit it deserves, but that's the nature of intel work, and the way the intel people prefer it.

Second, it has forced the terrorists to largely withdraw operations from Baghdad, and concentrate their remaining suicide bombers against targets in the suburbs, or in other areas of central Iraq where this new campaign is being fought. The terrorists have redoubled their efforts to trigger a civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs, even as their supply of suicide bombers declines. Of course, one could say that such a civil war has been doing on for over two years. But al Qaeda wants the Shia Arabs to come down to their level, and massacre women and children. This al Qaeda has been doing for over a year, and it has turned most Iraqis, including many Sunni Arabs, against them. So far, all this al Qaeda strategy has generated is some Shia Arab and Kurdish death squads that round up and murder (after sometimes torturing) Sunni Arab men. Who are the victims? Apparently they are either suspected Sunni Arab terrorists, or men who once worked for Saddams vast security apparatus, and are being hunted by the kin of their victims. So far, the Shia Arabs and Kurds aren't interested in killing innocents, because there are so many Sunni Arab men with blood on their hands. Al Qaeda needs true blood lust from the (non-Sunni Arab) majority of Iraqis, in order, it appears (nothing is obvious with al Qaeda) to trigger enough dead Sunni Arabs to cause neighboring Sunni Arab states to, to, to do what? Order an oil embargo to force coalition forces to leave Iraq, while at the same time invading Iraq to put the Sunni Arabs back in control? But the majority of Sunni Arabs don't want an al Qaeda style religious dictatorship, they prefer another Saddam Hussein (preferably a kinder and gentler one). So a Sunni Arab victory would be followed by another civil war between religious Sunni Arabs, led by al Qaeda, and the secular majority, led by Saddam's Baath Party. With that kind of future to look forward to, it's no wonder Sunni Arab morale is in the dumps.

Third, the ongoing violence has caused a shift in Sunni Arab attitudes. Not a big one, they still believe they should be running Iraq. But there is a kind of resignation. While the Americans have not turned out to be invincible, they have been unbeatable. And the Shia Arab government gets stronger and stronger. Neighboring Sunni Arab states have not made any overt moves to aid the Sunni Arab Iraqis. Indeed, the neighboring countries openly condemn the Sunni Arab terrorism. Many Sunni Arabs just want peace, and some prosperity. They all know that prosperity has returned to the Kurdish north, where there has been peace, and freedom from Saddam, for over a decade. Even in the Shia Arab south, two years of peace have made lives noticeably easier and better. Sunni Arabs want that, and they are willing to stop killing to get it.

On the downside, there's no let up in the extent of corruption and lack of civic spirit among so many Iraqis. The tribal mentality, and "everything is for sale" attitudes are not only alien (at least in terms of degree) to Americans, but a serious obstacle to getting anything done in Iraq. These bad habits are not unique to Iraq, but pervade the entire Arab world. Expats who have spent decades working in Arab countries can entertain you for hours with bitter-sweet stories of the self-destructive habits they have encountered among Arabs. Americans are getting their faces rubbed in these unsavory customs and it's not a pretty sight. Working with an ally whose favorite target is his own foot can be an unsettling experience. There are exceptions. Many Iraqis understand that honest dealings, and making an effort for Iraq, not just their immediate family or clan, is the key to future peace and prosperity. But these civic minded Iraqis are considered aberrations in their own country, and are often marked for death. Iraqi can be pacified by force, that has been done many times in the past. But the battle for Iraq's soul will determine of the future will be better, or just more of the past.

 

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